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New info about MINITALIA, the Italian LEGO...

IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
Minitalia was a type of LEGO sold in Italy in the early 1970s in unique sets. I was always under the impression that Minitalia was produced because the Italian Parliament passed a law forbidding the importation of construction toys in 1970, and just took that as the truth.

Well, over the years of putting together my collectors guide, I was never able to find any documentation on this Italian law, and recently was made aware that the Minitalia parts were not made in Italy after all... they were made in a town near Billund Denmark, of a cheaper plastic, and were sent to Italy for sale. And as it seems... Minitalia was sold alongside LEGO, at the same time.

But that didn't answer the question of WHY???

Well within the last year a Japanese LEGO acquaintance brought to my attention a Japanese product called OLO.... and OLO was a product produced by TLG in Denmark, and shipped to Japan and sold alongside LEGO in Japan. And what year was this?? 1970!!

Well in my research for OLO, I have come to several conclusions about both OLO and Minitalia.... they were both produced because LEGO sales in both Italy and Japan were doing very poorly!!

And both OLO and Minitalia were using the same LEGO brick types, which were not the tube type used for LEGO...






So all these years, the rumors of the Italian Parliament being the reason for the start of LEGO sales, that story took on a life of its' own... even though it was not the case..... more to come....


  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    Both OLO and Minitalia, as it turns out... were introduced in 1970 to help improve sales of LEGO in both countries. In Italy... the Minitalia set boxes came with a Minitalia catalog, and a LEGO catalog as well. In Japan, LEGO sets were actually found within the OLO catalog.

    So TLG thought that by producing a product that looked like it was locally produced... that they eventually could get people to switch over the the compatible LEGO.

    TLG had several LEGO brick patents that were introduced in 1958. The most famous one was the tube bottom patent. But TLG also had a patent for bricks with "X" on the bottom. And it was this patent that TLG used in Italy and Japan in 1970 for Minitalia and OLO....


    Now the plastic used for Minitalia and for OLO were completely different. TLG used a very cheap plastic, which was likely cheaper to produce parts with than ABS... and that helped offset the cost for the cheaper Minitalia sets.

    For OLO TLG appeared to use ABS plastic as well, but the molds used were much more finely crafted and the quality of the parts was much better. This may have been necessary to satisfy the Japanese need for quality....

    Left 2 parts Minitalia.... right part OLO....


    More to come.... ;-)
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    My good LEGO friend from Illinois Russell C. did exhaustive research on Italian and Minitalia catalogs from the 1970s. So using this very detailed table, it was shown that

    1) LEGO was never discontinued in Italy (to be replaced by Minitalia)... because the LEGO catalogs appear to be continuous during the entire 1970-75 Minitalia era.

    2) the first year for Minitalia was not 1971 as is often thought to be the case. The first year was 1970... since the first Minitalia sets came with 2 catalogs... a 1970 Italian LEGO catalog, and also the first (undated) Minitalia catalog. This dual catalog'ing seems to have continued throughout the Minitalia years.

    So there was never any discontinuation of LEGO sets during the Minitalia era... which shows that Minitalia was always sold "alongside" LEGO, and never replacing it.

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    One of the biggest differences between the higher quality OLO parts and the lesser quality Minitalia parts was the windows/doors.

    OLO looked back to the old classic LEGO windows doors (only 2 window types for OLO)... and all the OLO types of classic LEGO windows/doors were without glass...


    On the otherhand... the Minitalia windows/doors were something entirely new, except for the panorama window. Minitalia made a 1x6x3 panorama window (no glass) very similar to the production classic LEGO window of that era... except it had 6 panes on either side of the large middle window opening. It was the smaller Minitalia window and the Minitalia door that were revolutionary. These became the prototypes to the new (in 1978) LEGO 1x4x5 opening door, and 1x4x3 window with shutter clips and shutters. Only difference was, the window had 12 fixed window openings, instead of the 2 opening panes.....

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    edited October 2014
    So in many ways... the 1970 designed MInitalia became the first prototype of the modern LEGO window/door system....

    More information on MInitalia and OLO can be found in my collectors guide, including the Ahashi and Fujisho companies of Japan, and Minitalia of Milano... as well as catalogs, and idea booklets.
  • TechnicNickTechnicNick Berkshire, UKMember Posts: 279
    Fascinating stuff, I'd always taken the Italian parliament rumour at face value as well. Thanks Gary.
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    Thanks TechnicNick! Me too.... I never dis-believed it, until all the facts started to "not add up"! ;-)

    1970 appears to have been a very tumultuous time for TLG....

    That was the year that TLG decided that the also poor USA LEGO sales needed some corrections... but that was not due to consumer reluctance... but due to the fact that USA Samsonite was just not adept at selling a children's toy. So 1970 was the year where litigation between TLG and Samsonite USA started. It wasn't until 1973... that the Samsonite grip on USA sales ended, and TLG moved the USA LEGO HQ from Loveland Colorado to Brookfield Connecticut (within a year to Enfield CN).

    Many years later a 4th generation Shwayder Bros. family member (Shwayder Bros. was the founding family of Samsonite).... commented that "they sold LEGO sets like they sold luggage, and they weren't doing a good job of it". During the Samsonite years LEGO sales were never more than $5 million... a very underperforming figure. So after TLG started their own USA company and factory in Connecticut, USA sales became the world leader (by country) by 1976.

    A new part of my LEGO collectors guide talks about LEGO in each country... such as the origins in Britain/Ireland in 1960 on the Brickset front page right now....
  • TheBrokenPlateTheBrokenPlate Member Posts: 28
    Great post, thanks! Very interesting. I've always had a soft spot for the Minitalia buildings and color scheme, but the cheap plastic always put me off picking up a set.

    Wow I've never even heard of OLO before. Are these sets hard come by? I just had a look on ebay with no luck. I'd love to get my hands on one.
  • pixiepixie Member Posts: 19
    Lego Minitalia was a special edition available only in Italy (from 1972 to 1977).
    They made only 21 boxes.
    I give you some other information that I found.
    There were two main reason of Minitalia's birth. At that time in Italy there were:
    a lot of complicated restrictions for the importers and
    an energetic crisi that made the transport to Italy very problematic.
    So Lego started to produce in Italy, with poor plastic and different internal configurations.
  • korkor Member Posts: 392
    This is the most enjoyable read I've had all morning! Very fascinating information.
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    Thanks all! :-)

    Pixie... if you are looking at other information online about Minitalia... much of it is wrong. Minitalia started production in 1970. The first Minitalia sets had both an undated Minitalia catalog and a 1970 Italian LEGO catalog included in them. So that's why I date the introduction of Minitalia to 1970.

    Second.... none of the Minitalia boxes have "Made in Italy" on them... they are totally silent on that. The Minitalia catalogs were made in Germany also. I had a gentleman contact me whose father worked for a company affiliated with TLG, but not in Billund, but in a nearby town. This gentleman said that his father was involved in Minitalia production, and that he used to bring his son (in Denmark) Minitalia bricks home sometimes. As soon as I find that Email, I will publish it.

    Third... I have no doubt that imports to Italy may have been difficult. However, if you look at my Italy catalog list above... there were LEGO catalogs and sets produced for Italy for all the years of the 1970s. So regular LEGO was always available there.

    Fourth.... I doubt that the energy crisis made things any worse for LEGO sales to Italy than they did for even farther off locations where LEGO was sold back then... such as Portugal, Morocco, Israel, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore... all more distant locations where LEGO had to be exported to.

    Online research information about Mintalia is very very outdated... I should know... some of things I have posted need to be updated.

    Another thing... the 1977 #1 and #2 sets with black Minitalia windows and doors were regular LEGO sets. I have a copy of a TLG letter stating so. These sets just reused the leftover Minitalia window/door molds for those 2 sets... and the #2 set was also sold in Japan (where OLO was sold alongside LEGO there as well). The #2 set was sold in Japan as late as 1980, since I have a catalog image to show this....

    More to come on this topic....

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    edited October 2014
    My Encyclopedic LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide has not only the story about Minitalia and OLO, but also the unqiue story about LEGO in Iceland (by a company called Reykjalundur), in Norway (by A/S Norske LEGIO), in Sweden (by Geas Konstharts and later AB Lundby), in Japan (by Asahi and Fujisho Corp.), and of course the common ones such Samsonite (USA/Canada) and Courtaulds (British LEGO Ltd. for Britain, Ireland and Australia).

    And then there's also all the unique and very valuable parts that are unique to those areas... ;-)
  • klatu003klatu003 Hobbiton, Shire, Middle EarthMember Posts: 727
    @Istokg Thank you for these interesting posts about LEGO history. They are always a fun read.
  • BillybrownBillybrown UKMember Posts: 748
    Quality information, would make a good Engineering and Marketing thesis :-). My dad is a pattern maker, so the quality of his patterns reflect the quality of a casting. I used to work in quality control in shipbuilding and there were different grades of finished products depending on affordability from the country purchasing, so I always find history like this fascinating.
  • WoutRWoutR NetherlandsMember Posts: 44
    Istokg said:

    The interchanged position of the pat pend marks has happened on more bricks. I have seen some theories that this was done on purpose, but I do not believe that. It is just a difference that shows that the mold maker was human and did not always work in the same way.
  • RobertoRoberto Imola, ItalyMember Posts: 117
    Hi Istokg, I am not very involved in Minitalia, actually I preserved some bricks of that line even if I don't remember how I got them, but in any case I can confirm at that time here in Italy there were any restriction about laws in terms of importation, so it's not an embraceable hypothesis. One of the other theories is that Lego choiced italian market for testing new parts, new constructive criterias of them.
  • legomaniaclegomaniac Member Posts: 12
    The Minitalia boat hulls were the same as "real" LEGO boat hulls.
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    edited November 2015

    Yes you are correct, there were not laws in Italy about toy importations.  This story that the Italian Parliament passed some laws circa 1970 are not true.  I recently found proof to the contrary from 2 different sources.... 

    1) there is a regular LEGO Italy catalog for every year that Minitalia was made.  If there were actually toy importation restrictions, we would not have an Italy LEGO catalog for every year from 1970-77.  In fact many Minitalia sets have both a Minitalia Catalog AND a LEGO Catalog included in the set boxes.

    2) A Danish collector notified me that his father used to work for a company that did contract work for TLG in the nearby town of Kolding Denmark.  Minitalia was made using one of the other LEGO patents, and also used a cheaper plastic than ABS.

    It seems that LEGO was considered an expensive luxury toy in Italy, and sales were poor there (a similar story of poor sales in Japan that produced OLO).  So TLG produced (in Denmark) Minitalia bricks made much cheaper using a cheaper type of plastic and selling for less money in Italy.  So until 1975 Minitalia was imported to Italy from Denmark as a cheaper construction toy, with LEGO catalogs included into the boxes.  Eventually LEGO sales climbed in Italy by the mid 1970s, and Minitalia was phased out... but not before the final #1 and #2 sets were sold there with black Minitalia Windows/Doors in the late 1970s.

    In my Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide I now have a table that lists all the regular and Minitalia LEGO catalogs produced from 1970-77 in Italy, that shows there was no toy ban.

    Also, here is an image of a Minitalia set that used cardboard for the roof instead of sloped bricks... again... a way to make the sets cheaper!

  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,322
    edited May 2016
    Well a LEGO collector who was visiting Kolding Denmark (abour 40 minutes from Billund).... obtained some prototype Minitalia windows.... and some were marbled!!

    When I read the gentleman (named Warren) mention Kolding... my ears perked up.  Kolding is where all the Minitalia was made for transport to Italy.

    These are some beauties, and he was very fortunate to obtain them!!  The only shutters sold by Minitalia were green ones... so the red and blue ones are also very rare.

    The white one at the bottom (with green shutters) is the normal Minitalia window/shutters of the 1971-75 era.
  • catwranglercatwrangler Northern IrelandMember Posts: 1,892
    This is fascinating - thanks for these posts! 
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